Information Architecture: What Is It?

Information Architecture: What Is It?
Posted on 06/18/2018
CivicLive Blog - Information Architecture: What Is It?

At West, we like to think of Information Architecture (IA) as the best friend to website usability because the two go hand-in-hand. However, much debate surrounds the concept of IA, making it rather difficult to place just one definition on the term. The best way to describe it is using Andrew Dillon’s “big IA/little IA” argument. Dillon, Associate Professor of Information Science and Informatics at Indiana University, suggests that Information Architecture, as it pertains to information systems such as websites, exists in two formats: a big one and a little one. Little IA is basically just “the application of information science to web design.” In layman’s terms, it’s the breakdown of how information is classified, labeled and retrieved. On the other hand, big IA is more than how a website is organized; it’s concerned with the overall user experience through usability and design.


Understanding Information Architecture is important when building and designing a website because when IA is done right it helps website users understand what they’re seeing on a site, and makes it easy for them to find what they’re looking for.


What Makes Good IA?

Good IA is a well-thought out, structured plan that uses logic to ensure a website makes sense. For an Information Architect, someone whose job it is to create this matrix of invisible strings, there are a few golden rules. As a website user it’s good to be familiar with them too, particularly if you’re considering a website redesign.


Information Architecture: The Golden Rules


IA Informs UI

Information Architecture is not the same thing as UI (User Interface). True, they're related but they are not interchangeable. IA lives in diagrams and spreadsheets; it is not part of the on-screen user interface.


Meaning Matters

A big part of IA is organizing all of the small, tiny parts (the things that the everyday user doesn’t think about) into the overall larger system. To do this correctly, good IA focuses on meaning, and attributing meaning and labels to the different topics, ideas and items at play. For example, if you search “permits” on your local government website you’ll most likely end up with a search result comprised of a variety of hits for the various permits your city offers (parking, construction, street occupation, etc.) as well as results for how to fill out permits, FAQ and how-tos. These results are the outcome of precise labeling as part of the site’s overall information architecture.


Structure is King

A site with superior IA has been organized to accomplish very specific goals. It’s been laid out to anticipate how a user may organize content and requests mentally and can then provide that information online in a way that makes sense to the average user. Structure is king.


The Invisible Hero

Good IA means you can’t see it. It should be invisible. The more intuitive, structured and natural the information architecture is on a site, the better it is. Superior IA includes built-in support between structure and navigation. It’s designed to avoid over-complexity, inconsistency and hidden options in order to provide a clear, easy-to-use user interface that makes it simple for users to find the information they need.


West’s CivicLive solutions specialize in information architecture specifically designed to meet the unique needs of local governments, contact us today and find out how.




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